Flannel Moth

Megalopyge opercularis

Photographs by Susan Leach Snyder

On November 26, 2008, a furry looking caterpillar was spotted crawling along the trellis in Garden 11. Using the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services Entomology Circular No. 381 March/April 1997 Internet pdf file, the caterpillar was identified as a puss caterpillar, the larval form of the flannel moth.

This caterpillar is the most commonly encountered venomous caterpillar in Florida. They have stinging spines and setae (bristles). The upright poison spines are hidden beneath long setae. (Note the white and beige setae in the photographs .) A poison gland is at the base of each seta and the toxin is injected whenever a seta is touched and broken.

The caterpillar head is retracted beneath the prothoracic segment. In the photograph below, note the pink/beige head of the caterpillar (facing the camera) is tucked under its pink/beige prothoracic segment, which is surrounded by white bristles. In the photograph above, the head and prothoracic segments are hidden.


Another distinguishing characteristic of the puss caterpillar is that along the posterior portion of its body are 7 pairs of prolegs. The caterpillars of most moth and butterfly species have fewer prolegs.

Puss caterpillars feed on the leaves of a variety of shrubs and hardwood trees, including oaks. A laurel or live oak was probably the food source of the particular caterpillar.

Prior to pupating, caterpillars crawl to a concealed location where they form hard cocoons. The caterpillar found in the Conservancy garden was probably on such a journey when it was spotted.

Adult flannel moths are small moths with 12-40 mm wingspans. Most adults are brown to yellow, but some are white.




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Please report errors to Susan Snyder at susanleachsnyder@gmail.com